Friday, March 3, 2023

Worldbuilding 101 For Writers: Writing People Groups and Social Circles

by A.C. Williams @ACW_Author

If the main character of the story you’re reading right now is a member of the military, how do you expect them to act? What if it’s a military where the air force rides dragons? 

If the main character is a person from an aristocratic family, who are members of their approved social circle? What would happen if one of them ran away to join the circus?

If the main character is a person from a servant culture on a planet where cities can only survive underground, how would they express the longing for freedom?

No matter what kind of story you’re writing, if the heart of the story isn’t about people, the story isn’t going to make a difference to your readers. People are one of the foundational basics of worldbuilding, regardless whether you’re writing speculative fiction or not. 

Last month, in our Worldbuilding 101 series, we talked about Existing History and how vital it is that your storyworld have an origin that most people living in the world are at least somewhat familiar with. This month, we’re going to talk about the people who live in that world. 

One of the greatest mistakes I see writers make is not allowing the fantastic worlds they build to have an affect on their characters (and vice versa). When you design a character to experience the story you’re building, if that character isn’t a product of his or her environment, your readers will sense a disconnect. 

If your character has grown up in a high society sort of culture, he or she will be accustomed to being served, to wearing fine clothing, and to having access to all the luxuries your world has to offer.

On the opposite side, if your character has grown up in a servant culture, he or she will know how to fight (usually figuratively but sometimes literally) for survival. They’ll be resilient. They’ll be strong. They won’t expect anyone to do for them what they can do for themselves. 

We’ll talk in greater detail later on about how different types of environments will influence your characters, but today where I’d like to focus in on class and culture. 

As much as we hate to admit it, the natural tendency of most people is to label each other. Our default is to mingle with people of similar backgrounds or similar appearances. It’s a unique person who seeks out the ones who are different.

Your characters may not (or maybe they do) have feathers, but I guarantee they will totally flock together with others just like them. There is safety and acceptance among the like-minded. That’s true in reality, and it must also be true in your story.

Those who are accustomed to high society will be most comfortable with others who have grown up in a similar way. That means you probably shouldn’t have a wealthy, blue-blooded heiress go hobnob with the butler’s awkward nephew who serves the family mucking out the horse stables. The only way that will work is if the heiress has a reason for doing it—either she wants to irritate her hoity toity family members or she is looking for someone to bully.

Similarly, people who live and work in what we would classify as “lower” social classes (don’t @ me, you know it’s a thing) tend to spend time with each other. However, it seems to happen more often that people of lower social standing scheme and trick their way into “higher” social circles. And it doesn’t have to be a manipulation. It could be a matter of luck. 

Take Charlie from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. He got the Golden Ticket that allowed him into the wild, insane luxury of Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory—along with several other kids who came from absurdly wealthy backgrounds. 

Even dating back to older stories like the Prince and the Pauper, where two characters of similar appearance switch places. Stories have often fixated on this idea of a social gap between people groups. It’s still a common theme in many stories, so when you have the opportunity to include it in your worldbuilding, don’t hesitate. 

How are you going to design the high class society of your world? Are they high class because of an accumulation of wealth or property? Are they high class because the religious system declares them to be so? Do they descent from superpowered beings and claim the high class titles through combat? 

What about the lower classes? Are they subdued and forced into servitude? Do they volunteer for service? 

If the world were perfect, there wouldn’t be social groups. We’d all see each other authentically and base our individual value on the special, unique soul within us. But the world isn’t perfect, and we all still struggle with a sin nature that urges us to compare and contrast and judge and condemn. 

However, while elements of these social barriers and boundaries should appear in your stories, that doesn’t mean they have to be presented as correct. You can write about unfair prejudice without glorifying it or holding it up as a standard to be followed. Rather, show the consequences of it and let your readers make up their own minds. 


Award-winning author, A.C. Williams is a coffee-drinking, sushi-eating, story-telling nerd who loves cats, country living, and all things Japanese. She’d rather be barefoot, and if she isn’t, her socks won’t match. She has authored eight novels, two novellas, three devotional books, and more flash fiction than you can shake a stick at. A senior partner at the award-winning Uncommon Universes Press, she is passionate about stories and the authors who write them. Learn more about her book coaching and follow her adventures online at

1 comment:

  1. Excellent article, A.C. My WIP includes a couple of Vietnam veterans. One element of the story revolves around the very different ways each of them dealt with life after the war. Talking to several vets about their experiences had a great impact on me. I hope I've done justice to them through my story.